Once An Actress
Oru Nadigai Natakam Paarkiraal
Translated from Tamil by K.S.Subramanian
New Horizon Media(p) Limited
33/15, Eldams Road
The novel begins with a verbal attack on Ranga, an art critic who tears a play to shreds saying “we cannot blame the troupe or its director for the many shortcomings of this play. This is the inexorable fate of Tamilnadu” Ironically, the dignitary who presides over the play praises it skyhigh and Kalyani, the actress, finds his praise rather exaggerated and is amused reading the last sentence in the review : “Thank God! A play like this will only appear once in a hundred years!’. However she doesn’t approve of his onslaught at a personal level of Annasami, who has been more than a mentor to her. Ranga had written ‘ he ignores the work in his office and dabbles in plays. It is bad for the theatre, and a slur on his integrity. Should the government be looking into this matter?”
Kalyani consents to be interviewed by Ranga in the presence of Annasami and the adept journalist that he is, Ranga draws her out with his incisive questioning and at the end of the three and half hour interview, she emerges as a sensitive, intelligent and down to earth person which surprises even Annasami. Even as the journalist thinks of publishing the piece Kalyani doesn’t appear too enthusiastic about it as much as she is in meeting Ranga and knowing more about him. She learns that he had lost his wife and has a five year old child who is being brought up by his wife’s sister, Sumati. Their sojourns result in mutual admiration and they long to spend time together. The relationship continues and one day Ranga decides to give a legal tag to it and when he informs Kalyani of this, she yearningly asks whether the child will stay with them once the sister-in-law is married. When he says that she could have one of her own, her reaction surprises Ranga and better sense prevails on him not to pursue the matter. Kalyani agrees to shift from her own house to a rented place on Ranga’s suggestion (more to appease his ego) and continue with her theatre and love for growing flowering plants.
Gradually the couple realizes their ideas on love and marriage are totally diametrical— to one, it is an overt demonstration as an act of reassurance of the emotion and giving up things one loves for the sake of the husband and to the other it means sincerity, honesty and compassion. Their firm views and lack of compromise lead to a drift in their relationship and ultimate separation. Do they reunite? If so under what circumstances?
The author, known for his bold subjects and off beat themes, handles the subject and characters with great sensitivity and understanding. They present a contrast— we find Kalyani, mature and reasonable when she takes a stand, irrespective of whether it concerns her profession or her personal life, whereas Ranga, is a true professional, possessing the essential qualities of a journalist but lacks the understanding and maturity to sort out personal problems, mostly of his own making.
The novel which has originally appeared in Tamil in 1971 and subsequently picturized portrays the background and lifestyle of actresses and how their vocation was viewed by society of that period .
A word about the translation –. K.S.Subramanian who has translated the novel has captured its true spirit by including every nuance and detail ,(for instance the lengthy dialogues and exchanges between the protagonists and how they frequently help themselves to beetle leaves and areca nuts ) and presented it in a very readable language and style. The glossary provides the English equivalents of the many Tamil terms used to benefit non-Tamil readers. This well got up publication, though a little highly priced (excepting for the two ghastly faces on the cover) is worth a read if one wishes to get a peep into the life of a small time actress.
n.meera raghavendra rao